US 8013236 B2
A parabolic primary mirror (10) has a concave specular surface (12) that is constructed and positioned to receive solar energy and focus it towards a focal point. A secondary mirror (14) having a convex specular surface (16) is constructed and positioned to receive focused solar energy from the primary mirror and focus it onto an annular receiver (18). The annular receiver (18) may include an annular array of optical elements (100) constructed to receive solar energy from the secondary specular surface (14) and focus it onto a ring of discrete areas. A ring of solar-to-electrical conversion units are positioned on the ring of discrete areas.
1. A solar energy collection apparatus, comprising:
a primary mirror supported by the frame, said primary mirror having a concave mirror surface constructed and positioned to receive solar energy and focus it towards a focal point; and
a secondary mirror supported by the frame, said secondary mirror having a convex mirror surface constructed and positioned to receive focused solar energy from the primary mirror and shapes the solar energy from the secondary mirror into an annular ring and focuses it onto an annular receiver, said annular receiver being supported by the frame.
2. The solar energy collection apparatus of
3. The solar energy collection apparatus of
4. The solar energy collection apparatus of
5. The solar energy collection apparatus of
6. The solar energy collection apparatus of
7. The solar energy collection apparatus of
8. The solar energy collection apparatus of
9. The solar energy collection apparatus of
10. The solar energy collection apparatus of
11. The solar energy collection apparatus of
12. A solar energy apparatus, comprising:
a convergent reflector configured to reflect incident radiation towards a focal point;
a divergent reflector positioned proximate the focal point of the convergent reflector and configured to receive and reflect at least a portion of the reflected incident radiation to define a second reflected radiation, wherein the second reflected radiation has been shaped into an annular ring; and
a annular receiver positioned between the convergent reflector and the focal point, configured to receive the second reflected radiation, wherein the convergent reflector, the divergent reflector and the receiver are coupled by a supporting frame.
13. The solar energy apparatus of
14. The solar energy apparatus of
15. The solar energy apparatus of
16. The solar energy apparatus of
17. The solar energy apparatus of
18. A solar energy apparatus, comprising:
an axisymmetric convergent surface having a principal axis and configured to reflect received incident energy to define a first reflected energy;
a divergent surface that is axisymmetric about the principal axis and spaced apart from the axisymmetric convergent surface and configured to receive at least a portion of the first reflected energy and to direct the received portion of the first reflected energy towards the axisymmetric convergent surface to define a second reflected energy wherein the second reflected energy has been shaped into an annular ring; and
a annular receiver positioned on the principal axis and between the convergent surface and the divergent surface that is configured to receive at least a portion of the second reflected energy.
19. The solar energy apparatus of
20. The solar energy apparatus of
This application is a divisional of U.S. application Ser. No. 11/650,739, filed Jan. 8, 2007, now U.S. Pat. No. 7,612,285 which is incorporated herein by reference in its entirety.
Improvements in the conversion of solar energy to electrical and/or heat energy are described. More particularly, a system of mirrors and lenses/prisms for economically collecting solar energy and converting it to electrical and/or heat energy is described.
Solar energy has been a desirable energy source for over thirty years. However, cost has always been an obstacle to its widespread use. The most familiar solar energy systems comprise an array of solar cells that cover enough area, or intercepts enough incident sunlight. to yield the desired amount of electrical power at relatively low conversion efficiencies of ten to fifteen percent (10%-15%). This approach requires large areas of expensive semi-conductor solar cells. To date, these systems have been uncompetitive without cost subsidies of some sort. In general, the prohibitive cost of solar energy systems has been primary due to the cost and the quantities required of the semi-conductor conversion devices called solar cells. There have been several approaches to alleviating the cost issue. One approach is to fabricate thin-film solar cells that use only a minimal amount of semi-conductor material. Unfortunately, this approach generates still lower efficiencies, six to eight percent (6%-8%) and the materials have proven to be problematic. A second approach has been used various optical devices such as fresnel lenses or mirrors to concentrate the solar energy to higher intensity and then convert it using a smaller area of the expensive solar cells. All of these approaches have been, and are still being pursued. None to date have resulted in economical solar energy generation without some sort of financial incentives being offered by the utilities or by government agencies. There is a need for a more economical way of collecting solar energy and converting it into electrical and/or thermal energy.
The solar energy collection system according to the various embodiments comprises a primary mirror and a secondary mirror. The primary mirror has a concave specular surface constructed and positioned to receive solar energy and focus it towards a focal point. The secondary mirror has a convex specular surface constructed and positioned to receive focused solar energy from the primary mirror and refocus it onto an annular receiver.
In an embodiment, the annular receiver includes an annular array of optical elements constructed to focus the solar energy received from the secondary specular surface onto a ring of discrete areas. In the various embodiments, a ring of solar-to-electrical conversion units are positioned on the ring of discrete areas.
In the various embodiments, the concave specular surface of the primary mirror is substantially parabolic. The convex specular surface of the secondary mirror is a hyperbolic surface modified to refocus the solar energy onto the annular receiver.
In the various embodiments, the annular receiver comprises a pattern of lenses/prisms arranged to further concentrate the solar energy and deliver it onto an annular array of photovoltaic cells.
The various embodiments also includes methods of making the primary and secondary mirrors. It also relates to a relationship between the secondary mirror and an optical concentrator, and between the optical concentrator and a system of photovoltaic cells. The photovoltaic cells serve a dual function in the system. They absorb the concentrated sunlight and convert a portion of it to electricity and a portion to heat, or thermal energy. Thus, it serves as both an electrical generator and a heat generator. In order to accomplish these two roles efficiently, the photovoltaic cells are fabricated for semiconductor materials with sufficiently wide band gap to maintain the efficient electric conversion at relatively high temperatures. In general, the wider the band gap of the semiconductor material, the less the photovoltaic cells efficiency will be degraded with rising temperature. A tradeoff is required for the application being considered depending on the relative importance of electricity production and heat production.
The various embodiments provide a mirror that is composed of a thin metal body having a curved specular surface, comprising a polymer layer on said metal body surface, a reflective metal layer on the polymer layer, and a thin glass layer on the metal layer. This construction can be used for both the primary mirror and the secondary mirror.
In the various embodiments, the thin-metal body of the mirror is formed from sheet aluminum alloy. A particularly suitable alloy is aluminum alloy 6061 that has been hardened to a T-6 condition. The thin metal body is formed into a desired shape and then is rotated while the polymer layer, the reflective metal layer and the thin glass layer are successively applied to it.
In the various embodiments, the specular surface of the secondary mirror is a convex surface that has been shaped to cause it to reflect and focus light/heat energy received by it onto an annular focus area.
In the various embodiments, a system lends itself well to wide band gap photovoltaic cells having both single and multiple tandem junctions. To date, the cost of photovoltaic cells made from wide band gap materials and in multi-junction configurations has precluded use in terrestrial applications. The concentrator system produces a very high light intensity and allows the use of a small, economical area of photovoltaic cells.
The various embodiments includes a unique design of high intensity photovoltaic cells. These cells have unique, long and narrow active areas that are optimum for two reasons. Firstly, the cell pattern corresponds to the illumination pattern provided by the tertiary concentrator lenses. Secondly, the cell pattern provides a very short path length for conducting the photo-generated current off the cells. Photovoltaic cells under light concentration operate very large currents at low voltage. Therefore, any series resistance in the cell would drop the voltage and, in turn, the efficiency of the cells. The current from the high intensity cells is collected and conducted off of the cells by means of a pattern of electrically conducting metal grids overlaying the active areas of the cells. The series resistance in the grids is proportional to the length of the grids. For this reason, the large narrow cell design with its electrical bus bar running parallel to the long dimension of the cells permits the necessary short conductor grids. As will hereinafter be described, the various embodiments includes a construction of the photovoltaic cells and the pattern of such cells.
In the various embodiments, a solar energy conversion system converts solar to thermal energy in the form of hot water at useful temperatures while simultaneously converting solar power to electrical power at high efficiency. In the system, the concentrated solar energy is first absorbed by the photovoltaic cells. The photovoltaic cells convert a portion of the absorbed energy to electricity because the photovoltaic cells are made from wide band gap semiconductor materials, they can maintain high efficiency even at elevated temperatures.
In the various embodiments, a sensor and control system consisting of a sun sensor may be provided to supply sun position signals to a microcomputer that processes information and sends control signals to gear motors that drive the concentrators and hold them locked onto the sun to an accuracy of +/−0.1 degrees. The micro computer system further serves to shut the system down at night and position the primary mirrors to face the ground, wake the system up in the morning and acquire the sun, monitor the photovoltaic cell temperatures and drive the concentrators off sun if the cells overheat, monitor wind speed and rotate the concentrator mirrors to face down (edge-on to the wind) if wind speed exceeds a threshold amount.
Other objects, advantages and features will become apparent from the description set forth below, from the drawings, and from the principles that are embodied in the specific structures that are illustrated and described.
Like reference numerals and letters refer to like parts throughout the several views of the drawing, and:
Preferably, the primary mirror 10 is constructed from a sheet of aluminum alloy that has been formed to give it a substantially parabolic, convex/concave shape and a circular rim 20 composed of radial and cylindrical flanges 22, 24. As will hereinafter be described in more detail, an epoxy polymer layer 26 is deposited on the concave surface 12 (
The secondary mirror 14 is preferably also formed by a thin sheet of an aluminum alloy that is shaped to provide it with a modified hyperbolic specular surface. As with the primary specular surface 12, the secondary specular surface 16 is provided with a layer of polymer over the formed sheet of aluminum. Then, a reflective metal layer is applied to the polymer layer and a thin glass layer is applied to the metal layer.
The primary and secondary mirrors 10, 14 are supported by a common frame F to which the primary mirror 10 is connected by plates 86, 88 and a series of fasteners (not shown). This frame F includes an axially extending post P which is coincident with a common center line axis of the two mirrors 12, 16. The annular array of lenses/prisms 100 forming a part of the concentrator 18 surround the post P. As will hereinafter be explained in greater detail, the modified hyperbolic surface 16 is constructed and positioned to focus the solar energy onto the annular ring of lenses/prisms that are a part of concentrator 18. The secondary mirror 14 may include a housing on its concave side constructed to receive a cooling fluid.
The primary mirror 10 may be formed by hot blow forming a heated sheet of aluminum into a die that is precisely machined to the desired parabolic shape. The hot blow forming process is so named because it uses gas pressure to force the heated sheet into conformance with the die. Forming the sheet at high temperature allows the use of off-the-shelf rolled aluminum sheet for substrate stock. The high forming temperature lowers the tensile strength of the material, so that the internal stresses that cause spring back from the die are minimized. The lowered tensile strength also minimizes variations in spring back due to differences between batches of materials or in materials from different vendors. The gas pressure presses equally on all parts of the sheet ensuring that all areas of the material are precisely conformed to the die and is left very precisely conformed to the shape of the forming die. After the forming process, the formed part is in a soft (“T-0”) annealed condition. The soft condition is undesirable and can be avoided by the selection of a suitable alloy and appropriate forming conditions so that age hardening, or tempering, can occur in the part after it is removed from the die and cooled.
Aluminum alloy 6061 is a suitable material to utilize the age hardening process. Age hardening the formed aluminum part to its T-6 condition makes it about five times harder, or stiffer, than it was in the T-O (soft annealed) condition. Aluminum alloy 6061 is an excellent choice for age hardening because of its relatively slow impurity precipitation rate during cooling.
The conditions for heating and cooling are established for the 6061 aluminum alloy to be both precisely formed without spring back and to induce age hardening. The conditions for both the forming and quenching must be achieved in the forming die. This is achieved by thermally isolating the aluminum sheet blank in the forming chamber and using radiant heating to raise the aluminum sheet to the 536C solution temperature. The part is then rapidly blown into a steel die that is maintained at a temperature of 225° C. that is below the critical temperature for precipitation in the aluminum alloy. The aluminum sheet rapidly gives up its heat to the die and is cooled to the point required for age hardening.
The forming machine performs a number of functions in the process of heating, forming and then quenching the primary mirror. It thermally isolates the dish blank to allow heating. It forms a gas-tight seal between the blank and the die. It forms a stiffening ring around the outer edge of the disk, forcing the blank material into the die and holds it in place as the die cools the formed dish to set-up the age-hardening condition. The formed primary mirror is removed from the forming machine and stored for age hardening before a specular surface is formed.
A specular surface is formed on the concave side of the formed aluminum body 10. This is done by spinning the thin metal body 10 and applying to it a layer of polymer. A liquid polymer is placed at the center of the dish which is then spun about its geometrical axis to a rotational speed such that centrifugal force causes the liquid to flow outwardly and upwardly along the surface of the dish 10 to its outer rim 20. When the entire concave surface 12 of the primary mirror 10 is covered with a film of the liquid polymer, the dish spin rate is adjusted so that centrifugal forces exactly cancel gravitational forces. At this point, there are no net forces on the liquid so that it becomes a stationary parabolic sheet 26 with its surface tension smoothing it to specularity. The condition of no net forces on the liquid is shown in
By equating equations (3) and (4) and solving for w we get
The liquid polymer also has certain requirements that must be fulfilled to properly function in the above application. The polymer property requirements are (1) the viscosity must be sufficiently low to allow easy flow over the surface of the dish, (2) the working time must allow vacuum out-gassing for bubble removal as well as spinning the material onto the dish, (3) it permits a thermally activated cure, (4) cured material must be vacuum compatible, (5) cured material must withstand the heat of vacuum vapor disposition of metal and dielectric layers, (6) it must support these deposited layers without wrinkling and (7) the cured material must be tolerate of humidity and thermal cycle during normal service.
The integrated manufacturing process produces a primary mirror 10 that is durable, economical, precisely formed, and optically superior. The key steps of the manufacturing process are forming the shape, smoothing the surface and deposition of the highly reflective metal and protective glass layers. The reflective metal layer is deposited onto the cured polymer, smoothing layer during a high-vacuum deposition process. During a single vacuum pump-down process, both the highly reflecting metal surface and the protective glass layer are deposited. A critical aspect of the deposition of the metal and glass layer is to deliver additional energy to the layers as they are being deposited on the mirror substrate. The added energy is delivered to the surface by ionizing a portion of the material being deposited and then accelerating these ions towards a surface where the films are being grown. These ions release their kinetic energy to the growing film allowing lateral movement of deposited material to densify the growing film, minimize pinhole formation, enhance film adhesion and form a bulk-like layer.
Deposition of the metal and glass layers is accomplished in a high-vacuum chamber, schematically shown by
Ion bombardment has long been used for improving vapor deposited thin films. However, the known processes typically use a beam of ionized gas, atoms or molecules for the bombardment. The beam approach is very expensive and not very practical for bombarding such large areas as the parabolic primary mirror. For this reason, we originated a unique system for ionizing a portion of the evaporant beam and accelerating it towards the target film to achieve the same results. A schematic of the ionizing deposition system is shown in
The glass layer 30 is deposited in a similar fashion with the exception that a silicon monoxide material is used for the starting source material to be evaporated. The silicon monoxide is evaporated from a source while oxygen is injected into the vacuum chamber 70 to create a controlled oxygen partial pressure in the deposition chamber. The oxygen combines with the silicon monoxide both on its way from the source to the target surface and at the target surface in order to convert it to silicon dioxide that forms a stable, transparent fused silica film on the deposition surface. During the evaporation, an electron stream partially ionizes the silicon monoxide material and the charged plates within the chamber accelerate the ionized silicon monoxide towards the substrate 10. This added energy from the accelerated ions is deposited at the growing SiO2 layer on the target surface yielding more mobility and reactivity that improves the density and adhesion of the glass film while reducing the number of film pinholes, improving the film's weather resistance. After the glass deposition, the primary mirror 10 is then removed from the deposition chamber 70 and inserted into the solar energy conversion system.
The secondary mirror 14 may also be formed from a sheet of aluminum alloy in much the same manner as the primary mirror 10. That is, a sheet of aluminum alloy may be hot blow formed into a die that is precisely machined to the desired shape of the specular surface. Then, the convex surface of the secondary mirror is provided with a polymer layer applied to the formed aluminum member. Then a reflective metal layer is applied to the polymer layer and a thin glass layer is formed on the metal layer.
According to an aspect, an annular lens/prism assembly is positioned on the annular area formed by rotating the real focal point RFP. In
The lens/prism elements 50 are unique in the way that they split the incoming light beam into two components in order to concentrate it and split it into narrow lines. The optical axis of each lens/prism element 50 is a perpendicular line extending vertically through the center of the elements 50 from top to bottom. In the radial dimension the elements 50 act as prisms with the geometry shown in
By breaking the incident light rays into two components, one radial and one circumferentially, the spread of angles that the prisms and the lenses individually must operate on is limited to a much smaller range and allows pointing error tolerance for the system even at the very-high concentration levels of the CHP system.
The photovoltaic cells PVC serve a dual function in the system. They absorb the concentrated sunlight and converts a portion of it to electricity and a portion to heat, or thermal energy. Thus, it serves as both an electricity generator and a heat generator in the system. In order to accomplish these two roles efficiently, the photovoltaic cells PVC must be fabricated from semiconductor materials with sufficiently wide band gap to maintain efficient electrical conversion at relatively high temperatures. In general, the wider the band gap of the semiconductor material, the less the photovoltaic cells efficiency will be degraded with rising temperature. Thus, a tradeoff is required for the application being considered depending on the relative importance of electricity production and heat production. For example, if a GaAs Photovoltaic Cell PVC is used, then the system can produce heat at temperatures up to about 100° C. while still maintaining an electrical conversion efficiency that is approximately 95% of its efficiency at 25° C. Thus, the system lends itself well to wide band gap photovoltaic cells having both single and multiple tandem junctions. The inventors have determined that, the cost of photovoltaic cells made from wide band gap materials and in multi-junction configurations has precluded their use in terrestrial applications. For this reason, the very-high intensity produced by the concentrator system disclosed herein allows the use of small, economic area of photovoltaic cells. For photovoltaic cells PVC to operate efficiently at very-high light intensities, a unique design is required.
Another constraint on the grid lines G is that they cover as small a portion of the active area as possible so as to not shadow the active area of the cell PVC and prevent light from entering the cell PVC. The electrical resistance of the grids G is also proportional to their width and height. For this reason, making the cells PVC tapered, getting wider as they approach the bus bar and the current from the cells PVC increasing can help to optimize the low resistance with the need for low shadowing. Making the grids G as thick as possible can also reduce the required width of the grids G. To those skilled in the art, many other grid-bus bar designs for minimizing resistance and maximizing active area will be apparent. Typical metals for use in the grids and bus bars are gold, silver or copper.
The photovoltaic cells PVC are mounted on a special, electrically insulating, thermally conducting substrate 120. The substrate 120 consists of a thin alumina sheet 122 with gold plated copper cladding 124 bonded to each side. At the top side of the substrate, the cladding 124 is etched to form a circuit pattern for making electrical interconnects 126 between the photovoltaic cells PVC that are bonded to the etched copper circuit pattern as shown in
The CHP solar concentrator system requires several specific functions from its sun sensing system. Firstly, the tracking system used two-axis active closed loop continuous sensing of the sun and does not depend on a clock and timing algorithm for finding and tracking the sun. Since it uses no timing algorithm, the sensor senses the sun's position from anywhere in a 180° solid angle, or hemisphere. Once the sun is found, the sun position sensor SPS provides sufficiently sensitive signals to allow pointing at the sun with +/−0.1° of accuracy. The sensor also discriminates between direct solar illumination and the light from bright cloud rims and other interference, which may be due to stray reflected light or ground based light sources. Finally, the sensor and tracking system may be economical enough for commercial sales. Heretofore, no system existed that met all of the above criteria.
The sensor SPS is based on a different physical phenomenon than that of conventional sensors. The sensor SPS lends itself better to protection from stray light and provides more sensitive detection of small angular offsets in pointing accuracy. Most of the available sensors may use some sort of tall column with photo sensors attached to its four sides. As the column points directly at the sun, the cells are turned edge on to the sun and no signal is produced. As they turn away from the sun, the cells on one side of the column are illuminated yielding a signal while the cells on the opposite side are shaded and yield no signal. Another type of sensor utilizes cells mounted flat in the bottom of a collimating tube. The trouble with these designs is that the signals produced are highly non-linear and sensors are either very prone to elimination by stray light (columnar type) or they are not amenable to sensing the sun at large error angles (collimating tube type).
The sensor SPS is based on non-linear dependence to the angle of incidence of reflectance and transmittance of light at the surface of photovoltaic cells and in dielectric materials such as glass in order to overcome the difficulties described above.
The non-linear reflectance based sun sensor is extremely sensitive to small angular errors about its normal which allows it to hold the concentrator locked on sun to a very tight tolerance, +/−0.1° being typical. The low profile of the sensor enables the use of a shadow shield ss to protect the sensor from stray reflected light or local light sources.
The signals from the fine sensors, coarse sensors, and the rear-facing sensor are processed by the control microcomputer. If there is little or no signal on the fine and coarse sensors but there is signal on the rear-facing sensor, then the computer directs the gear motors to drive the system, westward until the coarse sensors pick up signal. At this point, the computer transfers control to the coarse signals and the concentrator drive system will seek the sun in both horizontal and elevation directions. When the computer detects sufficient signal from the fine sensors, then it transfers control to the sensors for locking on-sun and maintaining the desired tracking tolerances in each axis. In this way, a highly sensitive, highly accurate tracking system that is immune to stray light signals is achieved. The remaining problem “cloud chasing” due to scattered light from bright cloud rims is solved by software. The computer is instructed to ignore signals that are not up to a threshold value typical of direct sunlight.
The onboard computer is the heart of the control system. In addition to handling the tracking signals and controlling the tracking motors, the computer handles a variety of other signals from its internal clock, limit switches, thermocouples, and a wind sensor to keep the system operating safely and efficiently. The limit switches are located in the motor drive trains and are tripped when the motion of the concentrator reaches the extreme limits of travel in either direction and in both axis. For example, at the end of the day, the horizontal drive system rotates from its westerly, sundown position back to the east. It trips the east limit switch locating the concentrator for beginning the day's travel the next morning. Usually (except at summer solstice) in the evening and the system does not drive to the extreme westerly position so an internal clock is used to signal the computer to drive back to its easterly “home” position at a program time when energy collection is finished for the day. Similarly, at the program time in the evening, after the system reaches its easterly “home” position, the computer drives the concentrator to face down. The computer also samples signals from a wind sensor and, if the wind velocity exceeds a programmed threshold, then the computer directs the concentrators to the ground-facing position, i.e. horizontal to the wind until the wind signal drops below the threshold value.
The computer also monitors a thermocouple located on each photovoltaic cell array and if an array indicates a temperature exceeding a programmed threshold, then the concentrator is driven to the earth-facing position until the problem can be evaluated and corrected as necessary. As a backup, in case the computer malfunctions, a thermal mechanical switch is located on the photovoltaic receiver body. If the receiver body reaches a high enough temperature to trip the thermal-mechanical switch, then it overrides the computer and supplies power directly to the elevation drive motor to drive the concentrators to the ground-facing position.
For normal operation, the computer monitors the coolant fluid temperature and controls the pump flow rate to adjust the fluid temperature to a program value. If the temperature is rising and the fluid flow rate is at its maximum, then it is assumed that the external thermal load cannot accept all the thermal energy being generated and the fluid flow is diverted by a solenoid valve to the liquid-to-air heat exchanger to control the fluid temperature.
In another embodiment, the photovoltaic cell array can be replaced by a light absorber to absorb the concentrated sunlight and convert it directly to heat and transfer it to a desired application. The desired application can vary from domestic hot water, water purification, commercial processing, or absorption air conditioning. The heat can also be used directly to (1) drive heat engines such as Stirling engines, (2) super heat steam to drive a steam engine or turbine, (3) to fuel a thermal electric generator, or (4) drive any other type of thermal engine or heat application.
It is within the scope of the various embodiments to direct a laser beam into the parabolic dish in a direction parallel to its optical axis and then use photovoltaic cells that are sensitive to the laser photons to convert the laser beam to electrical power. In this manner, power can be transmitted over long distances without the use of electrical wire. It is also within the scope of the various embodiments to direct a modulated laser beam into the concentrator system parallel to its optical axis and use a detector sensitive to the laser photons to detect and analyze the modulated signal. In this way the system can be used as the receiver in a laser transmitted communication system. Herein, “light energy” is generic to sunlight (soar energy), laser beams and other light beams.
The various embodiments that have been illustrated and/or described are only examples and, therefore, are non-limitive. It is to be understood that many changes in the particular structure, materials and features may be made without departing from the spirit and scope of the present disclosure. Therefore, it is our intention that the patent rights not be limited to the particular embodiments that are illustrated and described herein, but rather are to be determined by the following claims, interpreted according to accepted doctrines of patent claim interpretation, including use of the doctrine of equivalents.